Row over dog exercise area plans for Readhead Park in South Shields

A row has broken out over plans for a dog exercise area in Redhead Park.

South Tyneside Council chiefs earlier this year considered proposals for the space put forward by Friends of Readhead Park, but ultimately turned them down.

A petition was launched over the decision by the group, which has collected 323 signatures from residents in the borough.

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This was presented to a meeting of Riverside Community Area Forum (CAF) by Westoe Independent Councillor Glenn Thompson, a member of Friends of Readhead Park.

Hopes remain for a dog exercise area in Readhead Park.

Legal chiefs outlined the aim was to see if extra information could be gathered to see if consensus between ward councillors on the proposals could be achieved, however the issue broke out into a row between elected members.

This included Cllr Thompson accusing his ward colleague, Labour’s Councillor Ann Best, of asking “very aggressive” questions over the plans and “trying to find any possible way” to stop the proposals.

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Cllr Best hit back stating she only put forward questions asked by residents, and she has faced abuse online after Cllr Thompson “created a narrative” she had blocked the initiative.

She accused her ward colleague of being “totally disrespectful” and “politicising” the decision, along with issues of “predetermination”, due to his role in fundraising to deliver the project.

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Readhead Park.

Cllr Thompson, speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, said a similar dog exercise area in West Park was put into place without such issues.

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He added: “£15,000 is what the friends group and the local community have raised and over a year has passed without permission being granted.

“This for a proposal from a friends group officially registered by South Tyneside Council.”

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He said he contacted ward colleagues after initial positive discussions with officers around the feasibility of the park for any comments, and was happy to answer any queries.

However he claimed questions from Cllr Best sent to council chiefs over the issue were “very aggressive, ridiculously framed, trying to find any possible way to stop this”.

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Cllr Best said she had not been formally asked for her views on the topic until the CAF meeting, but she wanted the decision to go back to the appropriate council lead member for an “unbiased” view due to Cllr Thompson “politicising” the issue.

She said: “It’s disrespectful, it’s disingenuous and it’s been politicised, and friends of groups should never ever be politicised and I’m sorry I cannot tolerate that.

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“I have residents who are not in favour of this, however every time I’ve raised questions, concerns, Cllr Thompson said my questions were aggressive.

“They were questions that other people have asked me to ask and I’m perfectly entitled to ask them.”

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She added she did not submit questions to Cllr Thompson directly as she “didn’t believe he would be able to give an objective view”.

Councillor Paul Brenen, another Independent Westoe ward representative, voiced his support for the dog exercise area at the meeting.

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However as the three ward councillors could not agree on the proposal, it will be referred to the Councillor Ruth Berkely, cabinet lead for Voluntary Sector, Partnerships and Equalities, to revisit a decision on the park.

In August a council spokesperson said the dog exercise area plans were refused “due to the scale of the proposed enclosed dog area and the impact this would have on the rest of the park and other users.”

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An update on the park and the petition will be provided to a future full council meeting.

Cllr Thompson also requested the cabinet lead member attend a CAF meeting in the future to explain their decision.